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Computer and Internet Fraud

What are Computer Fraud, And Internet Fraud?

Commonly referred to as “hacking,” cybercrime occurs when someone breaks into another person’s computer without consent, and it’s a widespread problem in the modern digital age. It is no surprise that hackers are always on the hunt for opportunities to break into computers to commit fraud or some other crime, considering the amount of sensitive and valuable information consumers and businesses store on their personal computers and electronic devices nowadays. Unsurprisingly, the Department of Justice has prosecuted a significantly growing number of cases against alleged hackers and cybercriminals each year, and two charges they often use to punish hackers and cybercriminals are computer fraud and internet fraud.

What are the Federal Statutes Dealing with Computer Fraud and Internet Fraud?

The most commonly used federal statute deployed by United States Attorneys in cases involving internet fraud are under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 for fraud and related activity in connection with computers.

Additionally, you might also see a charge brought under CAN-SPAM Act and under 18 U.S.C. § 1037 for the unlawful distribution of large amounts of unsolicited spam, or under 18 U.S.C. § 2701 for the unlawful use a computer to access another person’s “electronic communication service,” i.e. their email or voicemail.

How Do You Prove Computer Fraud and Internet Fraud?

There are two basic requirements for the government to prosecute a case under section 1030:

Recent amendments and enforcement policy have led to a broader interpretation of both of these requirements.

More specifically, a “protected computer” includes any computer connected to the internet, not merely government computers alone.

In other words, under this broader definition, a “protected computer” would very well likely include a computer provided to you by your employer, a computer in the public library, and a wide array of other electronic devices with internet access.

In the very same vein, “without authorization” is also defined broadly.

A person authorized to use a certain computer may still use it “without authorization” when their  use “exceeds authorization,” or if their use is for an “improper purpose.”

That means if a person receives access to a work computer to do certain things, but later uses the work computer to do something that is not one of those things, like watching YouTube or checking social media, then they have technically committed a crime under section 1030.

Luckily, the Department of Justice is not concerned with prosecuting every single technical violation under section 1030, nor does it have the resources to do is if it were that overtly concerned.

For illustration, the majority of prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act generally fit into a few areas:

Importantly, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act expressly empowers federal prosecutors to bring charges for attempts and conspiracies to commit violations under the act.

What Are Some Common Examples Of Computer Fraud And Internet Fraud?

Examples of more common and everyday examples of conduct you might see federal prosecutors charge under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act include:

Who Is Investigating Computer Fraud And Internet Fraud?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the most likely agencies investigating persons suspected of computer fraud and internet fraud, as these two are the main law enforcement agencies of the federal government.

Considering that charges may apply involve government computers, any part of the federal government might be involved in an investigation if the computer fraud or internet fraud involved their computers.

What are the Punishments For Computer Fraud And Internet Fraud?

The punishments for computer fraud and internet fraud most often include an assessment of heavy fines and a term of imprisonment, but sentencing varies with each case’s unique set of facts, the presiding judge, and factors considered under the federal sentencing guidelines, which you can read more about here.

Are Computer Fraud And Internet Fraud Felonies?

Yes, violations under section 1030, section 1037 and under 2701 can be prosecuted as felonies under federal law.

At the same time, however, a violation under 1030 may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor depending on the motivations for the computer misconduct, but any violation resulting in a loss above $5,000 would be charged as a felony.

How Long is a Prison Sentence Computer Fraud and Internet Fraud?

The maximum term of imprisonment for computer fraud and internet fraud under section 1030 largely depends on the nature of the misconduct and its resulting harm.

What are the Minimum Sentences For Computer Fraud and Internet Fraud?

Every sentence in a federal cases is based on the federal sentencing guidelines, which considers a multitude of factors, such as prior criminal history, use of a gun, or position of trust, to calculate a recommended range that the federal judge may use as a guide for sentencing, however the presiding judge ultimately reserves final discretion at sentencing. Thus, as long as the judge provides a reasonable basis for their decision on record, the judge may make what is called a “departure from the guidelines” and sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment outside the recommended range. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.

Will I Be Required to Pay Back Restitution?

Possibly, as it depends on the charges you are convicted of and the unique facts of your case. Ultimately, however, final discretion remains with the judge presiding over sentencing. Factors that also will help determine whether restitution will be required include whether there are victims of the convicted charges, whether those victims suffered compensable harm, the federal sentencing guidelines, and many more.

Can the Government Seize my Assets During an Investigation? After Conviction?

Possibly, as it again depends on the charges alleged in the indictment and the unique facts of your case As mentioned above, the charges and facts alleged in the indictment shape the scope of the entire criminal proceeding, including assets subject to pre-trial seizures and final forfeiture as part of sentencing, if convicted. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.

How is the Government Prosecuting Computer Fraud and Internet Fraud Related to Covid-19?

See our news page for recent updates on COVID-19 fraud cases here.

Investigators Contacted Me: What Do I Do?

You should only speak with law enforcement investigator regarding anything related to fraud, COVID-19 fraud, or any other related crime after you have spoken to a criminal defense lawyer. Period.

A common question from people involved in a criminal investigation is at what point can they finally clear their name and share their part of the story.

You have probably heard investigators, prosecutors, and others taking the situation out of context, bending the truth, and misunderstanding what actually happened. They are relying on people who are lying, and the whole situation is outrageous and humiliating for you.

You should know that the Fifth Amendment exists to protect anyone accused of a crime from incriminating themselves, and the truth is it takes only one split-second mistake to get unnecessarily tied up in a prolonged criminal investigation that will place a heavy financial and time-consuming burden for you and loved ones. Do not go swimming with sharks alone and without a cage.

You need to speak with a fraud or COVID-19 fraud defense attorney to obtain sound legal advice before you speak with federal fraud investigators, even if you think you have done nothing wrong.

You should contact a defense lawyer that has decades of experience handling criminal investigations before you engage with investigators. Balancing cooperation and protecting your constitutional rights and liberties requires a defense attorney that knows how to handle federal investigators.

When Should I Contact a Federal Fraud Defense Lawyer?

If you have been contacted or anticipate contact from federal fraud or COVID-19 fraud investigators, then you should contact and speak with a federal fraud and COVID-19 fraud defense lawyer to protect yourself, your freedom, and financial stability. You will not be able to talk yourself out of the crosshairs – you’ll only be wound up in a web of investigation tactics.

How Can Schiffer Law Firm Help Me?

You need a fraud defense lawyer who knows what they’re doing and has a proven track record of experience defending federal fraud cases. Schiffer law firm has over four decades of experience defending clients involved in federal criminal investigations and clients accused of federal crimes. The fraud defense lawyers at Schiffer law firm know how to handle federal fraud cases from first contact by investigators to overturning wrongful convictions on appeal.

Does Schiffer Law Firm Only Defend People in Texas?

Schiffer law firm attorneys has and continues to defend people needing fraud defense attorneys nationwide. Nobody is too small, and nowhere is too far. If you think you need to speak to a fraud defense attorney, give us a call today.